A court in France found Google guilty of copyright infringement for its unauthorized scanning of French books. Under the ruling, the company is liable for €300,000 (about US $427,000) plus €10,000 ($14,300) per day until Google removes all of the material in question from its French index and site. The ruling affects about 80,000 copyrighted books scanned in France.
During the past few years, France has been setting European trends on digital copyright law and policy — most recently regarding progressive-response legislation for unauthorized content uploaders. So how will this court ruling (assuming it survive’s Google’s appeal) affect Google’s book-scanning activities elsewhere in Europe?
One clue comes from a statement from one of the plaintiff’s lawyers that showing snippets of content in search results “is a bad representation of the works.” French copyright law contains the core concept of droit moral, or moral rights: the idea that the creator of a work has a say in how it is used beyond merely giving permission. A creator can object to an otherwise legal use of her work on moral grounds if she feels that the usage is derogatory or otherwise objectionable. Thus, the statement from the publishers’ attorney could foreshadow or underscore an accusation of infringement under le droit moral. This tactic may well apply elsewhere in Europe — even in the UK, which has completely different copyright law origins from France yet which adopted moral rights in 1988. (The US has no concept of moral rights in its copyright law.)
In other respects, France’s copyright law providers for copyright exemptions that are roughly equivalent to UK Fair Dealing and US Fair Use, thanks to the European Union Copyright Directive of 1996. But issues of how well-established national copyright laws interface with the latter new creature of the digital age are difficult to address. This case of French publishers versus Google will test those interfaces as the case makes its way through the appeals process.